Protecting your children online during pandemic

Reporter: Dannielle Garcia Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:
Young boy playing a video game on his tablet. Credit: WINK News

Children are being targeted now more than ever before, and the devices in their hands every day are attracting all types of trouble.

That is what the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children say is so scary about this dilemma: Parents see their kids on the couch, on their phones, and think ‘Well, at least they’re home.’ But what they do on those phones can be even more dangerous.

With more people at home using laptops, tablets and cell phones, predators are taking full advantage. From 2019 to 2020, there was a 28% increase in reported child exploitation and abuse cases online. And one category that has unfortunately doubled in reports is online enticement, when predators try to get explicit photos or videos from children or, worse, try to lure them away from their families.

“There are child predators out there that are using COVID[-19] and that silver lining, as they call it, to groom and lure children online, to opt in to entice them online,” said Callahan Walsh, child advocate with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “We’ve seen chatter on the dark web amongst these child exploiters, sharing best practices and tips on how to groom children, how to entice them, and we’ve seen those numbers increase here.”

“The other day I got this direct message from someone in the game chat, I didn’t recognize the username,” said one child about an attempt to exploit them. “But they said they had a picture of me, a really embarrassing picture of me.”

The best advice for parents and their children: Get familiar with the technology and apps that kids are using; set ground rules; and have conversations with your kids about online safety.

“Children are getting online earlier and earlier these days, and the average age for a child to receive their first very own cell phone is just 10 years old,” Walsh said. “By that time, they’ve already been on their brother and sister’s tablet, their parent’s phone, what have you. So as soon as the child start starting to go online is when we really need to start having those conversations, and teaching them how to be safe.”

The NCMEC website has a page with animated videos you can use to teach your children about online safety and how to avoid internet predators.

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